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Last Updated Thursday 1st September 2011

Stockport Celebration at Heaton Park August 2011

The latest new arrival at Manchester’s Heaton Park Tramway, Stockport 5, was officially launched into service at its new home with a special day-long event taking place on Sunday 28th August 2011. Despite being organised at very short notice and initially being planned as a ‘low-key event’, the day turned out to be another triumph for the preserved tramway, with plenty of action to keep enthusiasts entertained throughout the day! British Trams Online Contributing Writer Andrew Waddington reports.

The days leading up to the big event were extremely hectic at Heaton Park, with the star attraction – Stockport 5 – only arriving late on Thursday afternoon after travelling from Blackpool, and being unloaded the following day. An intense time followed as the tram was commissioned, tested, cleaned and decorated with driver training also being carried out. Having not operated since the Blackpool tramway 125th anniversary week last year, car 5 was certainly in need of some TLC but the tramway’s dedicated volunteers ensured that it was looking superb in time for its day in the limelight.

As most visitors to the park arrived on 28th August, Stockport 5 was basking in the sun on the siding alongside the tram depot, decked out in bunting and looking fantastic! Joining it for the day was a fellow red and white open topper also hailing from Stockport, in the shape of a preserved bus numbered 97, which came from the nearby Greater Manchester Museum of Transport at Boyle Street. The opportunity to photograph the Stockport tram and bus together certainly seemed to go down well with the many enthusiasts in attendance, and was another great example of the good relationship that exists between these two organisations.

At 1:00pm it was time for the grand launch of car 5, with short speeches from various representatives of both the Manchester Transport Museum Society and the Stockport 5 Trust, who retain ownership of the tram and have kindly placed it on loan to the Heaton Park Tramway for an initial period of three years (though it seems to be widely expected that it will stay considerably longer). After that, it was the moment everyone had been waiting for, as various invited guests boarded 5 for its special inaugural passenger trip on its new home system. Yours truly managed to get a top deck seat for the historic journey from the depot to Middleton Road and then on to Lakeside, with fellow resident trams Manchester 765 and Heaton Park 7 in hot pursuit; at this point all three trams were quite well loaded, confirming the level of interest in the event. 5 was driven by the appropriately named Stan Heaton, who had acquired the tram as a potential restoration project many years ago, and it was therefore extremely fitting that the man responsible for 5’s survival was able to take to the controls for its passenger journey in Greater Manchester since 1948.

Having run to the new Lakeside terminus together, the trio of trams were then posed together for photographs in the sunshine, with 7 coming up behind 5 on the main line and 765 posing alongside on the short spur track. After a lengthy photo stop, the invited guests re-boarded 5 for the return journey, which was followed by another treat for photographers – a parallel run from the Middleton Road park gates to the tram depot, featuring both Stockport vehicles: tramcar 5 and the visiting bus 97.

Then it was the time for the second first run with 5; its first proper journey in normal public service at the park, with special souvenir tickets for this trip being sold for just Ł2. To make this run a bit different from the previous one, 5 was taken onto the Lakeside spur, and there was a further surprise in store on the return journey when an impromptu auction was held on board the tram! The object up for grabs was a destination board displayed in 5’s saloon windows featuring a small number of famous Blackpool destinations, namely Pleasure Beach, Tower & Talbot Square. As these locations are obviously no longer relevant to the car in its new home it was decided to sell it off as a unique souvenir, and I am pleased to say that my father was the winning bidder, so we now have a small piece of Stockport 5 sitting in our garage at home!!!

For the remainder of the afternoon it was planned to have a two-car service with the two local cars operating together, whilst Vanguard 7 returned to the depot approach track (where it had actually started its day). Some heavy rain showers failed to discourage a hardy few from riding on 5’s open top deck; but at least the weather had been kind to the main events including the all-important launch ceremony itself. There were also some refreshments available in the tram depot including a specially decorated cake depicting Stockport 5 at Starr Gate, Blackpool on it. Unfortunately at around this time, the real tram was suffering a few difficulties and was taken out of service for assessment, with its crew transferring onto 7 in order to maintain the advertised service frequency. The problem was diagnosed as being to do with the braking equipment, but following some remedial attention the tram was approved to do an empty run to the park gates and back in order to fulfil its last planned duty of the day. This was to be a re-enactment of Stockport’s Last Tram run, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the system’s closure. As the actual last tram was car 53 which has sadly not survived, 5 was temporarily renumbered for this role with a sticker placed over its more familiar fleet numbers, creating yet another unique photo opportunity.

As the afternoon drew to a close, ‘53’ was driven down to Middleton Road, running in parallel once again with bus 97, but in the opposite direction to the first time. Here the gates were opened to give the remaining photographers a really special treat, before the bus made a hasty exit and returned home, whilst ‘53’ ran back to the depot fan. However, there was one final surprise in store as Manchester 765 was standing nearby, and so the chance to pose all three trams side-by-side was too much to resist! Upon the arrival of car 7, it was driven forward, and then 5/’53’ edged forward as well to create what was probably the best line-up of the day.

After that it was left to 7 and 765 to do a few final trips on this increasingly chilly day for the few who stayed until the very end, and after being lined up on the depot fan all three trams were finally tucked up in bed at circa 6:00pm.

So, despite a very tight schedule to work to, the team at Heaton Park had once again pulled off a highly enjoyable event. Despite the lack of notice, a good number of visitors came along to welcome 5 to its new home and even the deteriorating weather did not dampen the level of enthusiasm on site. It was especially heartening to see some of the tramway’s newest recruits working well alongside more familiar faces to create a very special day – now that’s what I call teamwork!

Please note photos from the this event will be added to British Trams Online next week because your Editor has run out of time to do it this week!

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